A National Weather Service official assessing storm damage in Zephyr Wednesday afternoon said he is “pretty confident” a small tornado touched down when a powerful thunderstorm rolled through around 3:30 a.m, leaving one home destroyed and numerous structures damaged.
The city remained without power as of Wednesday afternoon. Oncor Electric Delivery trucks were visible at several locations in Zephyr as crews dealt with downed power lines and worked to restore power, and firefighters were at some of the damaged areas.
No one was injured.
Hector Guerrero, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Angelo, visited damaged areas with another meteorologist, Aaron Woodward. “We definitely found a damage path,” Guerrero said. “We think there was a tornado that came through here on a scale of EF0 to EF1.”
An EF0 tornado’s wind speed is 65-85 mph, while and EF1 tornado has wind speed of 86-110 mph, Guerrero said.
He said the damage path indicated the tornado was about 250 yards wide and stayed on the ground for about 4 miles, leaving a path that stretched from the home that was destroyed — on U.S. Highway 84, across from the Zephyr Baptist Church — to a point about 2 miles south of County Road 218.
Members of the Zephyr Fire Department responded after emergency dispatchers set of a tone at 3:34 a.m. In addition to the home that was destroyed, 12 structures were damaged and about 24 sheds and carports sustained damage, firefighters said. Firefighters, responding in the darkness and rain, marked where power lines were down and “checked on people,” Fire Chief David Howard said. “We had rain on and off till about 8 o’clock (Wednesday) morning."
Howard said his home sustained roof damage. “When the storm hit, it woke me up,” Howard said. “When it hit, you could hear it. It was loud.”
Joe Burkett, 21, lived alone in a 400-square-foot home located on the property of his parents, Billy and Esther. Burkett said he and his father built the home.
Burkett, who manages the Diamond R restaurant, said he heard a hard wind blowing and “it did not sound too pretty.” Burkett said he crawled under a mattress and thinks he probably blacked out. “Next thing I remember, I’m pushing a couch off of me,” Burkett said.
The home was moved several feet off its foundation and turned upside down, landing on its roof in a pile of debris.
“I didn’t know what to think,” Burkett said.
Guerrero, speaking with Burkett family members, said, “we’re just so happy and so grateful no one was hurt.”
Esther Burkett was inside her home with her husband when the storm hit. “It was just a horrible noise,” she said. “We couldn’t see out our windows. It was very scary.” Burkett said she didn’t realize her son’s home had been hit until Joe Burkett knocked on his parents’ front door.
“He said said ‘my house is gone,’” Esther Burkett said.
She said her son’s dog emerged from the ruined home “without a scratch,” and Joe’s pickup, parked near the house, also escaped damage.
Zephyr resident Larry Terry said he was awake when the storm hit. “It sounded like a freight train when it came through,” Terry said.
Among the damaged structures was a large brick building that previously housed the now-closed Petty Grocery Store. Bricks near the top of the building were knocked out and tumbled into the street, leaving a gaping opening. A large section of the tin roof was draped across a utility line several yards away.
A firefighter used his tractor to move bricks out of the street. Later Wednesday, firefighters and tractor operators untangled the mangled tin roof from the utility line and lowered it to the ground.
Guerrero, while acknowledging that the tornado was relatively weak, added, “any tornado’s dangerous.”